At the risk of stating the obvious, the credibility, defensibility, and corresponding value of advice delivered by the cost analysis community to decision makers in government and industry is dependent on analyst competency. From my vantage point as former President/CEO and current Technical Director of an organization that routinely demonstrates through its actions an enduring commitment to improving this community of practice (COP), I fear that an increasing number of ‘professionals’ in our community aren’t doing their jobs as well as they should.
The intent of this article is to offer concrete food-for-thought to the community at-large in the form of actionable principles, aka the Principles of Cost Analysis Talent (POCAT).
Prior to delivering the main course, it is important to note that I selected the term principle because I view the thoughts that follow to be foundational in nature. My good friend, Dictionary.com, validated my choice via a variety of definitions, including but not limited to:
- “An accepted or professed rule of action or conduct”
- “A fundamental, primary or general law or truth from which others are derived”
- “A fundamental doctrine or tenet”
- “A determining characteristic of something; essential quality”
It is also important to preface the main course with a few general and, in my opinion, in-arguable truths. First, best of breed cost analysts are graduates of undergrad and grad programs that foster quantitative problem solving skills. Second, the best analysts are detail-oriented, particularly with respect to understanding the strengths and limitations of any cost, technical, and programmatic data employed in a particular analytical task. Third, the best analysts are effective story-tellers who understand what/how to convey the ‘right’ message to different audiences.
Now for the main course. In the interest of covering the waterfront of professionals who constitute our community, I have distinguished the principles by broad role – staff versus leader, where the latter represents cost analysts responsible for managing work/staff at different levels of an organization.
POCAT for Staff
- Willing/able to think vice simply do (i.e., “a fool with a tool is still a fool”)
- Willing/able to think independently (i.e., beware of government and industry advocate bias)
- Willing/able to deal with ambiguity (i.e., must be able to operate in an environment characterized by imperfect information)
- Willing/able to ask the ‘right’ and often pointed questions (i.e., always seek truth and don’t take anything at face value)
- Willing/able to convey and defend ‘bad’ news (i.e., tell the audience what they need vice want to hear)
- Willing/able to anticipate the next question (i.e., there is no substitute for being prepared to defend your analysis)
- Willing/able to recognize there is generally more than one way to solve a problem and invest the time to do so (i.e., sanity checks are an essential credibility/defensibility-enablers)
- Don’t rest on your or others’ laurels (i.e., previously-endorsed work can always be improved)
- Willing/able to perform cost research leading to improved data and techniques/tools (i.e., the most credible/defensible estimates are the product of estimate-specific collection and analysis of historical data; analysts lacking this competency are at a significant disadvantage)
- Willing/able to see the “forest for the trees” (i.e., lose sight of the big picture and you are lost)
- Understand they possess unique knowledge and deliver value that extends beyond cost (e.g., awareness of historical program technical/schedule features that translate to more realistic baseline definitions for future programs)
POCAT for Leaders
- Understand the principles above are critical and do what it takes to make them a reality via organizational culture, training, and development and financial rewards.
- Understand continual investment in data, techniques, and tools is essential to analytical credibility.
- Understand the manner in which results are presented is more important than what’s presented.
- Understand enough analysis on time is invaluable and great analysis late is useless.
- Understand certifications are no substitute for experience practicing the science and art of cost analysis.
- Recognize importance of rigorous (though not onerous) quality control processes.
- Ensure their bosses understand the cost analysis value proposition well enough to facilitate organizational health.
I hope the Principles of Cost Analysis Talent (POCAT) resonate with cost analysis staff and leaders alike. There is no doubt in my mind that adherence to these principles will enable our community to perform at a high level. Of course, these people-oriented principles are but one dimension of the blueprint for high performing cost analysis organizations. Check this space for future articles on the other dimensions. In the meantime, read President/CEO Al Leung’s related article, My Beloved Profession, available at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-beloved-profession-al-leung/.
Main image by John Choe